Tag Archives: metalbending

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – The Invasion (Part 2)

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Author’s note: In which Zuko has a badass moment, the final epic battle does… not happen and there is an almost-meeting.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***The Invasion (Part 2)***

The sun was slowly becoming hidden by the moon and Lia paused, starting to feel a little lightheaded. Her powers weren’t completely connected to the sun but that didn’t mean she wasn’t feeling any discomfort at the moment. She knelt next to her brother and Sokka, while Toph a little further away was knocking tanks out of their way. Sokka winced when a rather loud explosion happened next to them before looking up. His face lightened up as he saw Katara and their father approaching.

“Dad! You’re on your feet again.” Katara helped Hakoda to sit next to his son.

“Thanks to your sister. I’m in no shape to fight but maybe there is some way I could help,” the Chief said.

“Everything’s going smoothly and the eclipse hasn’t even kicked in yet,” Sokka reported.

“Let’s hope our luck holds out.” Hakoda turned to his daughter to see her watching intently the horizon. “Katara, you seem distracted. Is something wrong‌?”

“Yeah… Is that… is that Aang‌?” the waterbender pointed at rapidly growing shape at the horizon.

“What?” Lia asked incredulously.

 

Indeed it was Aang. He avoided a couple of projectiles and landed in front of the rest of the gang, looking unusually grim.

“Please tell you’re here because the Fire Lord turned out to be a big wimp and you didn’t even need the eclipse to take him down,” Sokka said hopefully. Zuko snorted at the thought, his hand going involuntary to his scar.

“He wasn’t home. No one was. The entire palace city is abandoned,” Aang explained. Everyone palled.

“They knew,” Sokka whispered.

“It’s over. The Fire Lord is probably long gone. Far away on some remote island where he’ll be safe during the eclipse,” Aang said disappointed. Zuko shook his head.

“No,” he said. “Before I left there were some plans being discussed. They were going to make a secret bunker. Somewhere where fath…the Fire Lord could go so it’ll be safe during a siege but still be close enough to lead the Fire Nation.” Toph cleared her throat loudly. Once she felt everyone’s eyes on her she said:

“If it’s an underground secret bunker we’re looking for, I’m just the girl to find it.”
Sokka took out a small device from his pocket.

“The Mechanist gave me this timing device,” he explained. “It looks like we’ve got about ten minutes until the full eclipse. Ten minutes to find the Fire Lord.”

“We can still do this. We can still win the day,” Aang said hopefully but Katara didn’t seem to share the sentiment.

“Wait. If they knew we were coming, it could all be a trap. Maybe we should use the time we have left to make sure all of us get out of here safely.”
“Everyone who’s here today came prepared to risk everything for this mission. They know what’s at stake. If there’s still a chance and there’s still hope, I think they would want Aang to go for it,” Hakoda argued back. Everyone turned to Aang.

“What do you think‌? You’re the one who has to face the Fire Lord. Whatever you decide, I’m with you,” Sokka said seriously to the airbender. Aang took a deep breath.

“I’ve got to try,” he said decisively.

Katara decided to stay with the invasion force just in case. Before the rest of the gang left, Zuko took his sister to the side, to have a word with her.

“If anything goes wrong, keep an eye on Katara for me,” he said grimly.

“You think we’ll walk right into a trap?” Lia asked seriously. Zuko offered her a small smile.

“I don’t think so. I know. Azula had all the time and resources to learn of the invasion while she was in Ba Sing Se.” Lia nodded in agreement.

“Perhaps Aang can still beat Ozai,” she said, trying to keep uncertainty away from her voice. She hugged him briefly and then they walked over to the rest of the team. Zuko and Katara only nodded to each other, not wanting to consider the possibility of not seeing each other again.

 

The group took Appa and flew towards the volcano inside which the palace city was built. The closer they got, the tenser Lia seemed to get. Everyone jumped down as soon as the bison landed.

“Do you feel anything down there‌?” Aang asked Toph. She nodded, her eyes half-closed in concentration.

“Yep. There are natural tunnels criss-crossing through the inside of the volcano.”

“Anything else?‌ Is there a structure somewhere‌?” Zuko asked.

“There’s something big, dense, and made of metal deep in the heart of the volcano,” the earthbender added after a moment.

“Sounds like a secret bunker to me,” Sokka said, raising an eyebrow.

 

Toph made a tunnel into the ground and everyone hurried in. Aang turned to Appa and Momo.

“Stay safe. We’ll be back soon,” he said before he jumped inside the hole to land behind Toph. The earthbender was feeling the ground.

“This way! That one’s a dead end,” she said, jumping on her feet and rushing down the tunnel.

“What would we do without you‌?” Sokka asked as he raced behind her.

“Perish and burn in hot magma,” came the cool reply. The boy gulped as they passed next to a small waterfall of lava.

“Yeah, pretty much,” he squeaked.
They paused at the opening of a cave, filled with vents that could occasionally spit out steam and magma.

“The tunnel continues on the other side and it leads right to the bunker,” Toph explained. Sokka made a movement forward.

“We’ll have to be fast but careful,” he advised the rest of the group. One of the vents erupted right in front of him. Zuko grabbed him from the back of his armour and yanked him backwards.

“How was that careful‌?” he asked.

“I was wrong. We need to be fast, careful and lucky,” Sokka amended. With some careful running and dodging (and Zuko and Lia stopping a few vents before they could erupt) they managed to reach the other side of the cave. The sight that greeted them made everyone let out a sigh.

“There’s no floor! It’s just a river of lava.” Sokka whined. “How are we supposed to cross this?”

“That’s why you have me here,” Lia said, moving to stand in front of everyone. Moving her hands she made the lava rise at their level, before she bended the heat out of the molten rock, making a narrow bridge appear. Toph tested it and raised an eyebrow.

“Sweet.”

 

It wasn’t far from there that they stopped again, this time in front of an enormous metal contraption, with an equally huge entrance.

“That’s some door!” Sokka whistled impressed. Toph pressed her ear against it and knocked the metal before smiling.

“Not a problem.” A few jabs, punches and kicks later the door had an opening big enough for them to pass through. Toph took the lead again, pointing at the right direction.

“I am so glad we added you to the group,” Sokka called after her.

 

Outside, Bato turned to address the soldiers, having taken the lead once Sokka and Zuko had left.

“The eclipse is only minutes away. We should be able to make it up the hill by the time it starts and secure the entire palace by the time it’s finished!” he explained to the men. With a battle cry they started pressing forward again. Katara turned to her father. They had been moving at the back of the force since Hakoda was not in any shape to press himself.

“We can wait here if you want,” she offered.

“No. I want to press forward with the others,” he insisted and they continued moving.

 

As they ran through the tunnel the teens heard a gasp. Spinning on their heels they saw War Minister Qin pressed against the wall, his arms in surrender. In a second he had a sword, a staff, a small rock and two fireballs aimed at him.

“The Fire Lord’s chamber is that way down the hall to the left and up the stairs. You can’t miss it,” he blurted immediately. They all looked at him suspiciously for a moment longer before Aang gave him a cheerful smile.

“Thanks!” he said and they continued at the direction he had pointed. As they ran Sokka took out his clock.

“Only 30 seconds until the total eclipse,” he informed the others. They came to a halt in front of a door with the royal symbol etched on it. Aang took a deep breath and looked at the engraved flame with determination.

“I’m ready,” he said. “I’m ready to face the Fire Lord.” He made a move to blast the door when Lia stopped him with a hand on his shoulder.

“Wait,” she said and turned to the earthbender. “Toph, how many people are in there?” she asked. Toph placed a hand to the ground and concentrated.

“There is one man sitting on the back, a line of guards behind him and…” she trailed opened her eyes and turning to the others. “Azula is there too.” The others shared a look of uncertainty.

“I still think we should go for it,” Toph said dismissively. Aang nodded.

“Yes, after all no one in there will be able to bend.”

 

Without further ado the door was blasted off its hinges, and the team rushed in. Ozai and Azula looked up from their thrones, a line of the Imperial Guard behind them standing in attention.

“So… you are alive after all,” Azula drawled carelessly at Aang, not sparing the rest of the group a look. Her father was glaring full-force at Zuko. “I had a hunch that you survived,” the princess continued as she stood from her throne. “It doesn’t matter, we’ve known about the invasion for months.”

 

On the hillside the invasion force was steadily advancing towards the palace city. The Mechanist paused to observe the sky. The sun and the moon were nearly completely overlapping.

“The eclipse is starting,” he warned the others. “Put on your eclipse glasses.” The men stopped for a second to put on the devices that would protect their eyes and then pressed on.

 

Underneath, inside the bunker, Zuko felt a sudden wave of energy leaving his body. Lia next to him looked a bit nauseous but otherwise fine. The eclipse had started. Aang seemed to gather his wits because he daringly stepped forward and pointed his staff at the Fire Lord.

“Fire Lord, your reign comes to an end today. Surrender or” here the boy visibly gulped, although his voice remained strong, “this will be a fight to the death,” he finished. Ozai did not answer but Azula stepped towards the small group with a mock-hurt expression on her face.

“You mean I’m not good enough for you? You’re hurting my feelings.” Wordlessly Toph encased her on a cone of earth.

“The eclipse has started Azula,” Zuko said shaking his head. “There is nothing you can do.” His younger sister smirked when suddenly the rock encasing her shattered.

“When I left Ba Sing Se, I brought home some souvenirs.” Two Dai Lis landed in from of her. “Dai Li agents. Do you still think that there is nothing I can do Zu-zu?” Aang tried to blast the earthbenders away with his airbending but they made a wall rise protecting themselves and the royalty behind them.

 

Outside the invasion force had reached the edge of the crater. Bato turned to give the next set of instructions to the men.

“Surround the periphery! We have to secure the palace by the time the eclipse is over. Otherwise, we’ll be in for the fight of our lives.”

The invasion force scattered around the capital, all of them heading towards the palace. A small group of earthbenders came across some guards.

“Stop! Surrender peacefully and we won’t harm you,” one of them, Tyro, said.

“We’ll never surrender!” one of the guards said arrogantly. He started moving his arms frantically but not even the smallest flame came out. He shared a nervous look with the rest of him team. “Okay, we surrender,” he amended hastily.

 

Katara and Hakoda had paused to catch their breath at the edge of the crater. The beauty of the relatively peaceful city took the waterbender by surprise. She suddenly knew why Zuko had been so desperate to return.

“There it is. The Fire Nation royal palace. We’ve come so far,” her father said in admiration. Katara shook her head.

“It’s not over yet,” she said as they began their descent.

 

Toph and Aang burst through the stone wall. The Dai Li attacked Aang who blocked their attacks with ease. Toph came to his side and drove them away, before bending a stone wave towards Azula. The Princess used it as leverage and jumped back on her throne. Zuko and Lia were forced to stand to the side along with Sokka. At this point they would be more of a hassle than help for the two earthbenders on their team.  Aang turned his attention to Azula and tried to blast her away but the Fire princess cartwheeled out of reach, avoiding his blasts with ease. With the help of the Dai Li agents she jumped through the hole of a wall that Toph had made later and landed near her brother. Aang and Toph rushed after her, the girl having the good sense to block the exit with another wall.

“I can’t pin her down. She’s too quick!” Aang panted. Toph nodded and paused long enough to detain the agents with a few quick metalbending moves. The two of them return to cornering Azula when suddenly Sokka called them.

“Wait! Aang, Toph, stop attacking.” Everyone looked at him in shock. “Don’t you see what she’s doing‌? She’s just playing with us. She’s not even trying to win this fight!”

“Not true, I’m giving it my all,” Azula sing-songed.

“You’re trying to keep us focused on you and waste all our time!” Toph exclaimed.

“Um, right. I think your friend just said that genius. And since you can’t see, I should tell you I’m rolling my eyes,” Azula snorted. Zuko made a move to lunge at her but Lia held him back.

“I’ll roll your whole head!” he snapped at his younger sister angrily.

“She’s just baiting you again,” his older sister said calmly.

“Okay, so what do we do‌? Just ignore her‌?” Aang asked confused.

“We don’t have a choice,” Sokka decided. “We need to focus on the Fire Lord.”

 

They turned to leave when Azula’s voice was heard.
“It’s a trap. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.” Everyone stiffened at her words and Aang and Toph almost turned back.

“Ignore!” Sokka said shrugging. The princess frowned before trying again.

“So, Sokka’s your name right‌? My favourite prisoner used to mention you all the time.” Sokka stopped and turned around shocked. “She was convinced that you were going to come rescue her. Of course, you never came and she gave up on you.” Forgetting his previous words the boy lunged at her with a yell, missing her smug smile.

“Come and get it…” Azula mattered under her breath. Before she could throw the dagger in her hand she found herself pinned to the wall while Zuko was struggling to hold Sokka back. With a jerk the Water Tribe warrior freed himself and rushed to Azula.

“Where is Suki‌?” he asked furiously. “Answer me!” he demanded when the girl remained silent.

“Sokka, she won’t talk,” Aang said calmly. Sokka hesitated for a moment before turning back at Azula.

“Where are you keeping her‌!” he yelled. Azula smirked smugly.

 

Lia was about to physically drag Sokka away from the princess when a wave of energy hit her. Zuko next to her must have felt it too because he doubled over. On the other side of the room Ozai stood and with a single fireblast cracked the earthen wall.

“Oh. Sounds like the firebending’s back on.” Azula blasted herself free, satisfied to see the horrified realisation in her enemies’ eyes.  She blasted the wall again, causing it to crumble.

“I’m sure dad will be glad to see you now,” she said cheerfully.

 

Indeed Ozai was slowly approaching them with an emotionless face and an impressive fireball ready to launch. Lia shook her head slightly and the fire went out. The man’s impassive expression turned to one of annoyed surprised as he failed to keep his fire going long enough to throw it at anyone. Lia gave a look to the teens around her.

“I believe it’s time to take our leave.” Aang was about to protest but thought better of it. They started backing towards the door when Azula sent a fireblast to their direction. Lia turned to block it, her attention momentarily diverted, which was more than enough for Ozai. Lightning crackled and launched towards the retreating Avatar. Zuko stood protectively in front of the boy, catching the lightning in his hand. The electricity surrounded him and he nearly lost his balance but managed to follow through the movements Iroh had taught him and send it back to his father. Ozai was blasted to the wall as smoke filled the room. When the atmosphere cleared the Avatar and his friends had disappeared.
“I fell for it!” Sokka lamented as they hurried to the surface again.

“It’s not your fault, Sokka. Azula was ready for us. She had every move planned out,” Toph tried to cheer him up. It didn’t work.

“And now it’s too late,” he sighed.

“The Fire Lord knew we were coming this time. We thought we had surprise on our side but we didn’t. It just wasn’t our day. What we need to do now is go help the others,” Lia interjected calmly. “Aang will get his chance soon.” They exited the tunnel and stopped to survey the scene. Suddenly Zuko started to run away.

“Where are you going?” Aang asked confused.

“To find uncle,” Zuko explained, looking back at them. “I can’t leave him here.” The others looked ready to protest but the Fire prince ignored them. With a sigh Lia laid a hand on the Avatar’s shoulder.

“I’ll make sure he doesn’t kill himself,” she promised, hurrying after Zuko.
With low spirits, Sokka, Aang and Toph climbed back on Appa to meet up with the invasion force. When they landed Katara ran to them with an anxious expression. Aang hung his head, not wanting to admit his failure.

“It was all a trap. Azula knew we were coming and she’s plotted out every move,” Sokka explained. “We’ve got to get to the beach as fast as we can. If we can make it to the submarines, maybe we can get away safely.” Everyone cast a nervous look at the war balloons that were rapidly approaching.

“They’ve got air power, but so do I!” Aang said resolutely. “I’m going to do what I can to slow them down.” He flew away on his glider.
“Appa, you and I can help too,” Katara said, jumping on the bison’s saddle. She desperately wanted to know what had happened and more importantly where Zuko was but now was not the time. She bit her lips in worry and gazed at her targets. Hopefully he was safe.
As it was, Zuko was running towards the Capital’s prison. He was aware of Lia following but his sole focus was getting his uncle out of his cell and meeting with the others. The door of the building lay in shambles and the interior was not in any better condition. Zuko ignored everything, focusing solely on finding Iroh, but Lia paused surprised. The invasion force hadn’t reach this far. What had happened there? Reaching the last cell Zuko burst in.

“Uncle!” he called frantically. The only person there was a guard. Zuko ran to him and grabbed him by the collar.

“Where is my uncle‌?” he demanded angrily.

“He’s gone. He busted himself out. I… I’ve never seen anything like it! He was like a one man army!” the man stuttered shocked.

“He’s gone Zuko,” Lia said calmly. “We need to get to the others.” Zuko followed her wordlessly although in his mind he was screaming.

“I shouldn’t have left him in Ba Sing Se,” he only said.

As they raced outside the sounds of bombs greeted them again. A fleet of zeppelins and air balloons was heading for the subs. Zuko and Lia watched in horror as one by one their means of escape were blown away.

“How will we escape?” Zuko whispered, his eyes scanning the land beneath him for the invasion force. A hand on his shoulder made him turn to where Lia was pointing silently. The familiar figure of Appa rose in the horizon, his back loaded with passengers.

“Katara and the others are probably on Appa. At least the younger ones,” she reasoned. “Now we just need to catch up to them.”

“With one of these,” her brother finished with his eyes trained on one of the war balloons, a familiar spark in them.

“What goes around, comes around I guess,” the Fire Spirit sighed in wry amusement.

 

They found one unguarded balloon and set out on figuring out how to make it take off, which was much simple than they expected. Once in air and concealed by the clouds, Zuko started scanning the horizon for Appa. He could just barely make out his form in the distance but it was enough for him. After all it wasn’t as if he had never been to their destination before.

“Looks like we’re going to the Western Air Temple,” he announced.

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – The Crossroads of Destiny

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Author’s note: In which tensions run high, there is an epic showdown and any chance the canon had of rearing its ugly face ever is offered as tribute to Koh the Face Stealer (because he was cool and deserved more screen time!).

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***The Crossroads of Destiny***

Aang had flown to Chameleon Bay as fast as Appa could. There he didn’t even have to say a word. His worried expression spoke miles and Sokka followed him without questions. They had flown all night at a frantic pace and now they were able to make out Ba Sing Se’s walls at the horizon.

“So, what kind of trouble is Katara in‌?” Sokka finally asked, sounding more curious than worried.

“I don’t know,” Aang admitted. “In my vision, I just knew she needed help.” Sokka sighed.

“It would be nice if your Avatar powers could be just a little more specific from time to time,” he said frustrated. Suddenly a rumble was heard from the ground below them. “What is that‌?” Sokka exclaimed.

 

They leaned over the edge of Appa’s head to see a cloud of dust moving fast towards the wall. Every now and then a flash of green appeared through it. Aang brought Appa down, near the ground. From there they could make out now Toph clearly through the dust.

“Need a ride‌?” Sokka called to her. Toph was startled out of her concentration, stumbled and fell to the ground. Aang and Sokka winced.
Meanwhile, inside the city, Zuko and Iroh had arrived at the palace. They made their way towards the entrance.

“Many times, I imagined myself here, at the threshold of the palace. But I always thought I would be here as a conqueror…instead, we are the Earth Kings personal guests, here to serve him tea. Destiny is a funny thing,” Iroh chuckled. Zuko laughed back. For once he appreciated his uncle’s proverbs.

“It sure is uncle.”

 

After Toph had appropriately punched Sokka for startling her, she sat next to Aang, holding on him tightly as they flew.

“So how did it go with the Guru‌? Did you master the Avatar State‌?” she asked him curious. Aang hesitated and then smiled nervously.

“Yes! It went great with the Guru. I completely mastered the Avatar State!” he finally said and prayed that no one detected his lie.

 

The two firebenders were led to a small antechamber near the actual throne room. Iroh had set everything up and now was pouring himself a cup of tea, seemingly content. Zuko on the other hand felt on edge. Something didn’t feel right.

“What’s taking so long‌?” he finally asked

“Maybe the Earth King overslept,” his uncle guessed.

 

Suddenly several Dai Li walked into the room and circled them.

“Something’s not right,” Zuko whispered.

“It’s tea time,” Azula’s arrogant voice travelled inside the room. Zuko sprung to his feet at the sound of it. “Have you met the Dai Li‌? They’re earthbenders, but they have a killer instinct that is so firebender, I just love it!” she continued. Iroh stood calmly next to his nephew, the full cup still in his hands.

“Did I ever tell you how I got the nickname the ‘Dragon of the West’‌?” he asked his niece.

“I’m not interested in a lengthy anecdote, uncle,” she answered disinterested.

“It’s more of a demonstration really.” Iroh raised the cup to his lips and took a long sip. Zuko next to him saw his movements and smirked. Suddenly he ducked behind the older man’s back, right as Iroh exhaled a torrent of fire at the Dai Li.

 

Zuko blasted a hole in the wall and they ran away, Iroh still breathing fire at the Dai Li. Two agents tried to stop them with their rock gloves and missed. As they reached a dead end Iroh shot a bolt of lightning and jumped out of the hole, to land in a bush shaped like a bear. He looked up to see Zuko standing at the opening.

“Come on. You’ll be fine,” he called. Zuko didn’t move.

“No. I’m tired of running. It’s time I faced Azula!” he called back before disappearing. Iroh facepalmed in frustration.

 

Zuko turned to see the corridor blocked by the Dai Li and his sister.

“You’re so dramatic,” Azula remarked. “What, are you going to do, challenge me to an Agni Kai‌?”

“Yes! I challenge you!” Zuko shot back.

“No thanks!” she answered sweetly. Zuko raised his hands, making an impressive amount of fire to appear and sent it towards Azula. She didn’t make a move to block the attack, as two Dai Li made a shield out of the floor, before launching two stone gloves against him. Zuko stumbled and placed a hand to the floor to steady himself. It turned out to be a bad idea. A second later it was also trapped to the floor and he was struggling in vain to free himself. Azula smirked. Her older brother was always so predictable…

 

Katara had lost track of how long she had been wondering in circles inside the catacombs, under the palace. At first she had tried to find an exit, but it seemed like this place was an endless maze. Thankfully she had discovered a cave with an underground river so she wasn’t completely defenceless. Suddenly a rumble was heard from above. She looked up to see three shadowed figures standing at an opening.

“You’ve got company,” one of them, obviously a Dai Li, said as the third person went tumbling down to the cave. As the entrance sealed again the boy got to his knees and looked up at her surprised. Katara felt her jaw hit the floor.

“Zuko?”

 

The King had told Sokka, Aang and Toph that Katara was with the Kyoshi Warriors, so they had decided to check on their apartment first. Appa landed in front of it and they ran inside. The moment they opened the door, Momo ran to meet them, chattering as he climbed to Aang’s shoulder.

“Momo!” the boy exclaimed happy.

“There’s no one else here,” Toph said suspiciously.

“Katara is in trouble! I knew it!” Aang told Sokka.

“Oh, no!” Sokka said, remembering all the times Katara had been alone and got herself in trouble.

“Wait, someone’s at the door,” Toph said right before a knock was heard. She smiled. “I know who it is. It’s an old friend.” She opened the door to reveal Iroh. “Glad to see you again.”

“I need your help,” Iroh explained.

 

Aang felt his head was ready to burst. What on earth was going on?

“Iroh, what are you doing here?” he finally managed to ask.

“Princess Azula is here in Ba Sing Se,” Iroh explained entering the house. If possible, Aang’s eyes widened even more.

“She must have Katara,” he exclaimed worried.

“She has captured my nephew as well,” Iroh added. Aang frowned and crossed his arms.

“Then we’ll work together to fight Azula, and save Katara and Zuko.”

“Whoa there!” Sokka finally said. “You lost me at, ‘Zuko’.”

“Then we’ll work together to fight Azula, and save Katara and Zuko.”

“Whoa there!” Sokka finally said. “You lost me at, ‘Zuko’.”

“I know how you must feel about my nephew. But believe me when I tell you there is good inside him,” Iroh smiled pleadingly.

“Good inside of him isn’t enough. Why don’t you come back when it’s outside him too, okay‌?” Sokka said stubbornly. Toph raised an eyebrow.

“What’s your problem Snoozles? Zuko travelled with us. He’s part of the group,” she pointed out.

“Toph is right Sokka,” Aang said, speaking over the older boys protests. “Katara is in trouble. All of Ba Sing Se is in trouble. Working together is our best chance.” Said boy sighed. He hated when the others were right.

“I brought someone along who might be able to help us,” Iroh said satisfied.
Outside, a bound and gagged Dai Li was waiting. Toph trapped him between two boulders and Iroh pulled out the gag.

“Azula and Long Feng are plotting a coup,” he said immediately. “They’re going to overthrow the Earth King.”

“My sister!” Sokka said pointing his machete at his face angrily. “Where are they keeping Katara?”

“In the crystal catacombs of old Ba Sing Se, deep beneath the palace.” They didn’t need to hear anything else and they took off for the palace.

 

Zuko leaned against an overgrown crystal while Katara paced around getting more frustrated by the second.

“Why did they throw us in here‌? Oh wait. Let me guess. It’s a trap. So when Aang shows up to rescue us, your sister can finally have him in her little Fire Nation clutches.” She made claws with her fingers. Zuko sighed but said nothing. There was no point in trying to reason with her right now. When Katara didn’t get an answer she continued ranting. “Your sister’s a terrible person, you know that‌? Following us, hunting the Avatar, trying to capture the world’s last hope for peace! But what would she care?‌ She’s the Fire Lord’s daughter. Spreading war and violence and hatred runs in the family.” Zuko’s expression darkened.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” he snapped before he could stop himself. Katara’s face reddened.

“I don’t‌! How dare you! You have no idea what this war has put me through. Me personally.” She turned her back to him, not wanting to let Zuko see her cry. “The Fire Nation took my mother away from me.”

 

Zuko snapped his eyes from the ground to the trembling form of the waterbender. She had never told him that before. Walking to her he placed his arms on her shoulders.

“I’m sorry,” he said earnestly. He hadn’t meant to bring back painful memories. “That’s something we have in common,” he admitted. Katara stopped crying, surprised from what she had heard. He has never told me that before.

 

Several levels above them Toph raised an eyebrow impressed. She had expected the Dai Li to be lying.

“Well whaddya know. There is an ancient city down there, but it’s deep.” She motioned to the others to stand back and earthbended a small crater in the ground. Sokka looked thoughtful.

“We should split up,” he said. “Aang, you go with Iroh to look for Katara and the angry jerk…no offence,” he added hurriedly remembering that Iroh was indeed the jerk’s uncle.

“None taken,” Iroh assured him.

“And I’ll go with Toph to warn the Earth King about Azula’s coup,” Sokka concluded.

 

The two teams split and went on their ways. As they travelled further underground Aang kept stealing hesitant glance at the old man at his side. Iroh was known for his wisdom. Maybe he could ask him for advice regarding the whole Avatar State problem.

“So, Toph thinks you give pretty good advice. And great tea,” he said to the old man awkwardly.

“The key to both is proper aging. What’s on your mind‌?” Iroh asked him. Aang paused to deepen the tunnel they were in.

“Well, I met with this Guru who was supposed to help me master the Avatar State, and control this great power. But to do it, I had to let go of someone I love, and I just couldn’t,” he admitted a little shamefully.

“Perfection and power are overrated. I think you were very wise to choose happiness and love,” Iroh said calmly. He knew that the young Avatar would eventually have to come to terms with his destiny, but it couldn’t hurt to ease the child’s insecurity for a little while. Aang didn’t seem convinced.

“What happens if we can’t save everyone and beat Azula?‌ Without the Avatar State, what if I am not powerful enough‌?” he asked.

“I don’t know the answer,” Iroh admitted. “Sometimes life is like this dark tunnel. You can’t always see the light at the end of the tunnel, but if you just keep moving…” he paused as they entered the beautiful catacombs. “…You will come to a better place,” he concluded.

 

Sokka and Toph entered the throne room running. The coup had already begun, but thankfully the Dai Li hadn’t reached it yet.

“Thank goodness we’re in time!” he said urgently.

“In time for what?” the Earth King asked.

“Yeah, what are you in time for… cutie‌?” Ty Lee asked innocently, somersaulting in front of Sokka.

“Uh, I’m kinda involved with Suki,” he said awkwardly. Ty Lee raised an eyebrow.

“Who?” she asked

 

Toph blew her bangs annoyed and earthbended Ty Lee to the air. The Fire Nation girl yelped and landed on a badger mole statue.

“They’re not the real Kyoshi Warriors!” she explained. The Earth King gasped and Mai smiled grimly.

“Sorry to disappoint you.” She flung three knives at Toph, who created a shield of earth. She then kicked the shield towards Mai, but the knife-thrower jumped out of the way. Once she landed Toph knocked her down, shifting the earth under her feet.

 

Meanwhile Ty Lee snuck up at Sokka, giggling. The Water Tribe warrior heard her and ducked in time to avoid being paralysed. Ty Lee continued to chase him around the room, still laughing.

“Ooo, it’s like we’re dancing together,” she giggle excitedly.

“This fight is over,” Azula suddenly said. She had entered the room unseen and taken the Earth King captive.

 

Sokka and Toph raised their hands in surrender, frowning. Ty Lee jumped between them and disabled them. Momo tried to fly away, but a Dai Li saw him and trapped him in a stone glove. Azula pushed the Earth King away.

“Get them all out of my sight,” she ordered.

 

Katara had calmed down considerably, now that she had vented her bottled-up frustration out.

“I’m sorry I yelled at you before,” she said a little shamefully.

“It doesn’t matter,” Zuko assured her softly. But Katara wanted to explain.

“It’s just that for so long now, whenever I would imagine the face of the enemy, it was your face, and now I realise that Azula’s would be much more suitable.” Zuko drew away from her, a hand covering self-consciously his scar.

“My face. I see,” he murmured. Katara’s eyes widened in realisation.

“No, no, that’s not what I meant,” She said hastily.

“It’s ok,” Zuko said in a flat voice. “I used to think this scar marked me. The mark of the banished prince, cursed to chase the Avatar forever. But lately, you’ve helped me realize that I’m free to determine my own destiny, even if I’ll never be free of my mark.” A thought crossed Katara’s mind.

“Maybe you could be free of it,” she said hesitantly.

 

Zuko spun to meet her eyes.

“What‌?” he asked hopefully.

“I have healing abilities,” the waterbender reminded him. He shook his head.

“It’s a scar,” He said bitterly. “It can’t be healed.” Katara reached and took out the vial her waterbending master had given her before she had left the Northern Water Tribe.

“This is water from the Spirit Oasis at the North Pole,” she explained. “It has special properties, so I have been saving it for something important. I don’t know if it would work, but…” She stepped closer to him, a hand lightly touching the scar. Zuko exhaled softly, before searching her eyes.

“Would you waste it on me?” he asked her.

“I don’t consider it a waste,” Katara said, as if reprimanding him. “But yes, if you want, we can give it a try.”

 

Zuko was torn. To be rid of his scar would be a dream come true. But Azula was here and it was only a matter of time before a battle broke out. A vial of magic water would be of greater use if someone was wounded. So he shook his head.

“Maybe it would be better if you kept it for now, just in case,” he told her. Katara smiled at him. She couldn’t help but feel proud for her boyfriend right now. She hid the vial again.

“Just so you know,” She told him. “I think you look more handsome with the scar.” Zuko smiled back.

“You’re certainly the first,” he told her, leaning in.

“I’m obviously the only girl around using her eyes.” She stood on her tiptoes, in anticipation for the kiss. A kiss that soon grew passionate, as Zuko pulled her body close to his own, his hand playing with her hair.

 

Then an explosion was heard near them. Katara curled instinctively against Zuko, as he embraced her even more tightly. Out of the dust Aang and Iroh appeared, both looking a little bit shocked on finding the two teens wrapped around each other, blushing.

“Aang!” Katara exclaimed, quickly moving away from her boyfriend.  She hurried to the Avatar’s side and hugged him briefly. Iroh was doing the same to Zuko, but the prince was only aware of the airbender glaring at him.

“Aang, I knew you would come,” Katara said smiling to her friend as she drew away.

“Someone had to save you,” he told her smiling proudly. Zuko snorted, but his uncle’s warning glance silenced him.

“Zuko, it’s time we talked,” he said sternly before turning to Katara and Aang. “Go help your other friends. We’ll catch up with you.” Aang hurried back to the tunnel, and Katara followed slowly. At the entrance she turned to look longingly to Zuko. He caught her eyes for a few moments, before turning to his uncle.

 

Iroh seemed to be measuring him, a look Zuko realised he had seen before, whenever an important decision would follow.

“Why uncle?” he asked hurt. Why do you still not trust me?

“You are not the man you used to be, Zuko. You are stronger and wiser and freer than you have ever been. And now you have come to the crossroads of your destiny. It’s time for you to choose. It’s time for you to choose good!” Iroh said. Zuko closed his eyes. There was no decision to be made now. He had made his decision a long time ago. Before he could tell his uncle that, the crystals erupted, trapping the old man. Zuko turned to a fighting position, as Azula and two agents approached.

“I expected this kind of treachery from uncle, but Zuko, prince Zuko…you’re a lot of things, but you’re not a traitor, are you‌?” she said plainly.

“Release him immediately!” he demanded angrily. Azula continued ignoring her brother’s words.

“It’s not too late for you Zuko. You can still redeem yourself.”

“The kind of redemption she offers is not for you,” Iroh interrupted.

“Why don’t you let him decide, uncle?” Azula said annoyed. She could definitely do without his interruptions.‌ “I need you Zuko,” she continued on a softer voice. “I’ve plotted every move of this day. This glorious day in Fire Nation history. And the only way we win is together. At the end of this day, you will have your honour back. You will have your father’s love. You will have everything you want.”

“Zuko, I am begging you, look into your heart and see what it is that you truly want,” Iroh said quietly. Azula waved the agents away and moved towards the tunnel Aang and Katara had disappeared into.

“You’re free to choose,” she called over her shoulder.
As soon as she was out of earshot Zuko turned to his uncle, his face resolute. He conjured a flame in his hand and moved closer to the crystal. With a look of deep concentration he began melting it. Noticing Iroh’s pleasantly surprised expression he smiled grimly.

“You really thought I would betray Katara?” he asked. Before Iroh had a chance to answer, another voice was heard.

“I for one didn’t.” Lia stepped out of the shadows. She had arrived right on time to listen to the confrontation between the two royal siblings. She moved near the two men, motioning to Zuko to step back.

“This is going to take a while,” she said pointing at the half melted crystal.

“You need to go and help the others. I’ll take it from here.” Zuko nodded and hurried after his sister. Right before he disappeared at the tunnel he thought he heard his uncle’s voice.

“I’m really proud of him.”

“Me too,” Lia said,

 

Aang and Katara were running franticly towards the waterfall. They had to stop Azula and the Dai Li before it was too late.

“We’ve got to find Sokka and Toph,” Katara said worried to Aang. Before he could answer blue fire erupted in front of them, forcing them to an abrupt halt. Aang caught most of the impact and was knocked back. Katara called a wave from the river and sent it against Azula. The princess deflected it, but Katara attacked again, this time with a wave that Azula evaporated. Steam covered the battlefield for a few moments.

 

Suddenly two balls of blue fire came from one of the largest crystals. Aang and Katara bended a shield of water. Azula jumped and landed to another rock. Aang sent a shockwave on it, causing the princess to lose her balance. Paling a little, Azula jumped and landed between the waterbender and the Avatar. Taking a defensive stance she waited nervously for their next move.

 

Before anyone had a chance to move a blast of red fire landed between Aang and Azula. They both turned to see Zuko in a firebending stance. He was in the simple clothes he wore under his robe. His gaze slipped from his sister to Aang and finally Katara. The waterbender seemed the only one to have guessed which side he was taking. Ending the standstill, Zuko sent another steam of fire against his shocked sister.

 

At the prison Sokka watched suspiciously through the small window of the cell he, Toph, Momo and the Earth King were in. The corridor was empty.

“See any Dai Li agents nearby‌?” Toph asked.

“Nope,” he answered. “All clear.”

Toph moved from the wall she had been leaning in. She cracked her knuckles once and then metalbended the door, tearing it from its hinges. She ran out, followed by Momo while Sokka dragged the Earth King.

“I’m not leaving without Bosco!” the king cried as they ran.

 

Zuko continued shooting fire at his sister and she continued blocking each shot. Katara noticed Azula standing on some water. She gathered it with a sharp movement, causing the princess to trip and lose her balance. Zuko stole an impatient glance towards the tunnel. Where were Iroh and Lia?

“We need to get out of here!” Aang said nervously. The other two nodded and started to slowly back towards the waterfall.

 

Before they had a chance to move much the ground erupted under their feet. Katara was flung to the crystals behind them and knocked out cold. Zuko made a movement to attack his sister, but Aang stopped him.

“No! Go check on Katara!” Zuko opened his mouth to retort and promptly closed it as they were forced to duck another attack from the Dai Li that had just arrived. Without another comment he raced on Katara’s side. Aang focused again on Azula.

 

The princess smiled smugly and launched another attack to the Avatar. Aang airbended himself out of danger and landed behind her. He tried to surprise Azula with a waterwhip, but she dodged with her fire and attacked again. Aang made the crystals in front of him rise and shielded himself. Stealing a glance he saw Zuko standing in front of Katara, blasting away the rocks Dai Li sent against them.

 

Katara came back to consciousness and immediately called water to her forming a ring of watery tendrils around her and Zuko. He studied her stance for a few seconds before turning his back on her and mimicking. A second ring with eight fiery tentacles joined the one made of water forcing the Dai Li to back away a few steps. However they kept coming and the teens were tiring quickly.

“There’s too many,” Aang whispered desperately. Suddenly Guru Pathik’s words rang to his ears. The only way, is to let her go. The Avatar closed his eyes sadly.

“I’m sorry Katara.”

Turning his back to everyone and bended a small tent of crystals around him. He sat down and started mediating. Outside the battle came once again to a standstill. Azula took involuntary a step back as the small crystal tent began to glow. Katara smiled relieved as Aang hovered in the Avatar State. It was a short-lived relief. A flash of lightning shined and Aang writhed in pain as Azula’s shot hit him in the back.

Katara felt the tears run freely down her face as she watched her friend fall helplessly. She gathered all her water in a massive wave and holding Zuko tightly by the arm she sped towards the rapidly falling boy. Zuko caught Aang mid-air and passed him hurriedly to Katara as he stood between them and his sister and agents.

 

Before Azula had a chance to move a fireblast landed in front of her as Iroh and Lia appeared in the cave.

“You’ve got to get out of here! I’ll hold them off as long as I can!” Iroh called at the teenagers before attacking the Dai Li. Lia was already fighting with Azula. Deflecting a blast she looked inside the younger girl’s eyes searching for something, anything that would prove her theory wrong. Fierce gold glared back at her.

“You hope to stare me to defeat?” Azula smiled grimly. Lia blinked twice. She had been concentrating so hard she had forgotten she was actually fighting. Steadily she pushed the Fire princess away from the waterfall where Katara and Zuko were struggling to get Aang.

“No,” she said coldly to the other girl. “I’m giving you a warning. Don’t you dare come near my brother again.” A flash passed from Azula’s eyes and for a moment Lia saw a pair of much more ruthless and ancient golden eyes glare back at her.

“Your brother…” the princess whispered in strange voice. But before anything else could happen Lia had raced to the other end of the cave (in a speed that would challenge even Aang) and was flying after her friends. She gave one last look behind her shoulder to see Iroh surrendering.

 

They had stopped for as little time as possible to their apartments to gather some basic necessities. Zuko had nearly raced back to the catacombs when he realised that his uncle had been captured. It had taken Lia, Toph and a Katara close to tears to dissuade him from going. All of them where now on Appa, leaving the fallen city of Ba Sing Se behind them. Katara laid Aang gently on Appa’s back and took out the vial with the Spirit water. She sent a small guilty look at Zuko next to her who was sitting at the front, steering Appa. He had declined her offer fearing something like that would have happened. Sighing she reached and placed the small amount of water on Aang’s wound. It shone brighter than she had ever seen before as the healing took effect. Aang’s tattoos glowed and he opened his eyes for a few seconds. Katara smiled down at him, relieved he was still with them. As Aang fell back to unconsciousness she shifted him so he could safely rest, his head on her lap, while rested against Zuko. The firebender wrapped an arm around her, pulling her closer to him. The last thing Katara heard before sleep claimed her too was the Earth King’s words.

“The Earth Kingdom…has fallen.”

***End of Book 2 – Earth***

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – The Guru

Standard

Author’s note: In which there is calm before the inevitable storm, someone is in denial, Toph is even more awesome than usual and someone ominous makes a comeback.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***The Guru***

The next morning Katara shifted contently under the blanket. She had had a good night’s sleep and for some reason her bed was pleasantly warmer than usual. Opening her eyes she smiled, seeing Zuko asleep next to her. Zuko! Her eyes widened as the memories of the previous night kicked in. They must have fallen asleep next to each other. She blushed crimson. Iroh and Lia would tease them to their deaths…She frowned. Where exactly was that Spirit? Knowing her she wouldn’t have moved from Zuko’s side if she was in the city. Zuko shifted next to her and she lay completely still, afraid she might wake him. When he settled back into his slumber, Katara stood and straightened her clothing. She left the room to look for Iroh, determined to get some answers.

 

The old man was making tea in the kitchen. He looked up from his pot when he heard Katara entering.

“Ah, good morning my dear!” he welcomed her, smiling brightly.

“Good morning Iroh,” she answered a little awkwardly. He seemed to understand.

“When I came to check on you and Zuko you were sleeping so peacefully, I didn’t have the heart to wake you,” Iroh explained. “Would you stay for breakfast?”

“I would love to,” Katara smiled. Iroh rubbed his hands excitedly.

“Great! I wanted to try this new recipe and now I have an excuse to do so!”

 

Soon enough the overly sweet smell of whatever Iroh was making drew Zuko out of his room. Rubbing his eyes groggily he asked:

“What’s that smell?”  Iroh looked at him hesitantly.

“It’s jook,” he explained. “I’m sure you wouldn’t like it.” Zuko leaned over the pot and took a deep breath.

“Actually, it smells delicious. I’d love a bowl, uncle.” He smiled and filled a bowl. Turning to the table he saw Katara studying him and his smile only widened. He placed the bowl in front of her, before serving one more for himself.

“Thank you Your Highness,” Katara said, smiling too. She had never seen this side of Zuko before and she really liked it. She liked it even better when he kissed her on the cheek. Iroh looked at all this with a raised eyebrow.

“Now that your fever is gone, you seem different somehow,” he said suspiciously. Zuko shrugged.

“It’s a new day. We’ve got a new apartment, new furniture, and in a few days it’s the grand opening of your new tea shop. Things are looking up uncle.” Besides, he added in his head, Katara and I made up!

 

A few days later Katara found herself wondering, for the umpteenth time, why Sokka would even consider staying in Ba Sing Se when he could go to Chameleon Bay. The war meetings she had to attend in his stead were long and boring, making her feel all stiff when she finally left the room. Besides, her only contribution was to help read some of her brother’s almost incomprehensible notes. Most of the time she could just watch as the generals discussed amongst themselves the strategy. Allowing herself to daydream, she thought of her life the last few days. She had all but moved into Zuko’s and Iroh’s place, being there most of the time. Much to the two teens’ glee Iroh had been hustling and bustling at the teashop, adding the finishing touches and left them to their own devices.

 

-Flashback:-

“I have to go down to the teashop children,” Iroh said, “When I’m back I’d like to find everything the way I left it.” He winked at the blushing teens. Not that he didn’t trust them, but you can never be too cautious.

“Of course uncle,” Zuko assured him glaring. What did he think they would be doing? As soon as the door closed both he and Katara breathed a sigh of relief.

“What does he imagine we’d do?” Zuko muttered, still glaring at the door. “Burn the whole building?” Katara giggled. She seemed to be laughing all the time lately.

“We could always go out you know,” she said cheerfully. “It’s a lovely day.” Zuko shrugged.

“As long as it doesn’t involve tea,” he mumbled before taking his girlfriend’s hand. “You know this place better than I do,”hHe told her. “Got any good suggestions?”

-End Flashback-

 

Katara smiled fondly at the memory. They had found a small quiet park and spent the day there, walking through the paths and just enjoying each other’s company. She was pulled out of her musings by General Hao’s voice.

“General Fong’s base will serve as the launching point of the attack,” he was explaining. “In exactly two months, the army and navy will invade the Fire Nation on the Day of Black Sun.” To illustrate his point he earthbended a few unit markers across the table, placing them directly in front of the Fire Nation capital. Momo decided that he didn’t like the arrangement and jumped on the map, scattering pieces all over the place.

“Or we could send in Momo to do some damage,” Katara chuckled as the lemur continued shuffling around the table. “Cause the…” she trailed off when she noticed the expressions on the generals’ faces. She sobered quickly. “Sorry.”

 

Hao snapped the pieces back in place wordlessly. Momo shrieked frightened and raced back to Katara’s shoulder.

“All we need is the Earth King’s seal in order to execute the plan.” He earthbended the scrolls with the plans towards Katara’s side of the table. The waterbender took them and stood up.

“I’ll get these scrolls to him right away. Thank you, General Hao.” She bowed before leaving the room with a quiet sigh of relief.

***

While Katara was having Ba Sing Se all to herself, Aang had just reached the Eastern Air Temple. Once upon a time this was the most populated of the Air Temples. But now… He spotted the figure of an ascetic, old man and guessing that was the guru he landed Appa nearby. He climbed the stairs to the small balcony the old man was apparently meditating on.

“Um, hello?” he called uncertainly. “You’re guru Pathik, right? The person who attached the note to Appa’s horn?”

“Indeed. I was a spiritual brother of your people, and a personal friend of monk Gyatso,” guru Pathik said without opening his eyes. Aang sat in front of him.

“In your note, you said you could teach me to gain control of the Avatar State. How?” he asked.

“You must gain balance within yourself before you can bring balance to the world. And the first step to gaining balance begins with this,” guru Pathik explained holding out a simple, wooden cup. “Drink up!” Aang took it hesitantly and took a long swallow. He spitted it out immediately.

“It tastes like onion and banana juice!” he exclaimed disgusted.

“That’s because it is,” Pathik said cheerfully. Aang sighed again. This was going to be a long week.

***

Aang was not the only one in an awkward situation. In a crossroads somewhere outside Ba Sing Se a strange carriage had been stilled for at least half an hour.

“I believe we need to go right!” Master Yu insisted for the thousandth time.

“What are you talking about?” Xin Fu scoffed. “The Bei Fong Estate’s this way.”

“I’m quite certain you’re mistaken.” Before Master Yu had time to add anything else, a loud banging was heard from the metal box they had been carrying.

“Hey! Can you two old ladies quit your bickering for a second? I gotta go to the bathroom!” Toph called urgently. Master Yu looked uneasy.

“Oh. Okay, but make it quick.” He stood and turned to open the cage. Xin Fu grabbed his arm.

“What’s wrong with you?” he asked frustrated. Master Yu’s eyes widened in realisation.

“Oh very sneaky Toph! Nice try, but you can’t trick me.” He bragged sitting down again.

“Let me out of here, so I can kick both your butts!” Toph screamed angrily. Xin Fu punched the wall of the box.

“Quit your banging! You might think you’re the greatest earthbender in the world, but even you can’t bend metal.” He called as the wagon began again. Inside the box Toph frowned.

Is that what you think?

***

The teashop had come out nicely, Zuko decided. Knowing his uncle’s love for curious, useless things he had been kind of worried, but the outcome was definitely better than he had dared to hope. Iroh, standing next to him, suddenly spoke:

“Who thought when we came to this city as refugees that I’d end up owning my own tea shop. Follow your passion Zuko, and life will reward you,” he advised. Zuko smiled cheerfully.

“Congratulations uncle,” he said. The last few days he had been on a ridiculously good mood, as Lia would have said. He felt a slight pang of loss at her absence, but suppressed it.

“I’m very thankful,” Iroh said.

“You deserve it,” Zuko said, a hint of his old bossiness in his voice. “The Jasmine Dragon will be the best tea shop in the city.” Iroh shook his head.

“No, I’m thankful because you decided to share this special day with me,” he said putting a hand on Zuko’s shoulder. “It means more than you know.” Zuko hugged him. Life was good at last.

“Now let’s make these people some tea,” he said enthusiastically, although inwardly he was wincing. Might as well do what he wants me to do for once.

“Yes! Let’s make some tea!” his uncle practically skipped to the kitchen to begin brewing.

***

Guru Pathik had guided Aang through unlocking the first three chakras successfully. Aang was beginning to wonder what the difficulty on the whole thing was. During the pep talk the older man had given him he had thought the whole process would be next to impossible. They were now inside a partially destroyed shrine, sitting under the watchful gaze of an Air Nun.

“The fourth chakra is located in the heart. It deals with love, and is blocked by grief. Lay all your grief out in front of you,” guru Pathik instructed him. Aang closed his eyes and his mind was transported to an endless plain covered with fog. Opening his eyes he saw Monk Gyatso and the rest of the Air Nomads appearing in front of him. Aang had barely time to smile at the vision before they disappeared in to thin air.

“You have indeed felt a great loss. But love is a form of energy, and it swirls all around us. The Air Nomads love for you has not left this world. It is still inside of your heart, and is reborn in the form of new love,” he heard Pathik’s voice. The cloud that used to be the Air Nomads took the form of Katara and Toph, dressed up for Earth King’s party. “Let the pain flow away,” Pathik said softly. Watching the young airbender’s face relax he smiled. “Very good!” he praised him.

“Can I have some onion banana juice please?” Aang asked wiping a few tears away.

***

Toph had been testing her idea for a few hours now with no success. She could feel the tiny pieces of Earth in the metal, but couldn’t get them to respond to her orders. Taking a deep breath, she stomped her foot against the whole once again.

“Come on metal…. budge,” she ordered through her teeth. Punching the wall again she managed to create a huge dent on the wall. Feeling her achievement she smirked triumphantly. “Whoo! Toph, you rule!” she praised herself before attacking her prison once again.

***

Katara loved her freedom as she walked through the streets of the Upper Ring, putting as much distance between the building where the generals were and herself as possible. As she passed in front of the Jasmine Dragon she paused.

“What do you say Momo? A cup of tea before we get back to the king?” she wondered aloud. Stepping inside she smiled at the waitress at the door. “Table for two please,” she said politely, while looking around for her boyfriend.

 

Zuko was standing near another table, obviously taking orders. He turned to his uncle’s general direction and called:

“Uncle, I need two jasmine, one green and one lychee.”

“I’m brewing as fast as I can!” Iroh called back cheerfully. Katara took a seat on a table near the counter, waiting for someone to come and take her order. Zuko saw her as he poured the freshly brewed tea on a pot and flashed her a grin. She smiled back as he hurriedly served his customers and came at her table.

“What would you like?” he asked in his most fake-polite voice. Katara stifled a giggle.

“A cup of today’s special for me and a few leechee nuts for my little friend.” Momo jumped on Zuko’s arms at the mention of his favourite treat. The boy laughed and petted the lemur.

“Sorry Momo, you’ll have to wait,” he said, handing him back to Katara. “I’ll be right back,” he told her.

 

Indeed, five minutes later they were sharing a pot of tea, since Iroh had decided to give his nephew a small break. Katara was describing how Momo had messed the generals’ map and how these men just seemed so unemotional to her.

“I mean honestly, they didn’t even say anything! They just glared,” she said. “Do they ever do anything else?”

“Aside from plotting? No,” Zuko told her, remembering the one war meeting he had attended. His expression darkened a bit and Katara looked at him surprised. He seemed fine a moment ago.

“Do you want to talk about it?” she asked tentatively. Zuko shook his head a few times and shook his head.

“Maybe some other time, when no one can overhear us,” he said and managed a smile. “You shouldn’t be talking about top secret meetings in teashops though.”

“I know I can trust you, to keep them secret,” Katara answered clamly, taking a sip of her tea.

***

Aang leaned back to admire the night sky over his head. Away from Ba Sing Se’s lights the stars could be seen clearly. He focused his attention again to the old man in front of him.

“This is the last chakra isn’t it?” he asked.

“Yes. Once you open this chakra, you will be able go in and out of the Avatar State at will. And when you are in the Avatar State, you will have complete control and awareness of all your actions.” Aang smiled in anticipation.

“Let’s do this.”

“The thought chakra is located at the crown of the head. It deals with pure cosmic energy and is blocked by earthly attachment. Meditate on what attaches you to this world.”

 

Aang closed his eyes and in his mind Katara appeared immediately. She smiled at him as Pathik continued talking.

“Now, let all of those attachments go. Let them flow down the river. Forgotten.”

Aang opened his eyes shocked.

“What? Why would I let go of Katara? I….I….I love her.” The moment the words left his mouth they felt wooden. Nevertheless he didn’t think over it.

“Learn to let her go, or you cannot let the pure cosmic energy flow in from the universe,” the Guru explained. Aang frowned.

“Why would I choose cosmic energy over Katara? How could it be a bad thing that I feel an attachment to her? Three chakras ago, that was a good thing.”

“You must learn to let go,” Pathik insisted firmly. Aang opened his mouth to retort, but the Guru raised his hand. “Let me tell you a story: Years ago a young Spirit came to this temple. A hard decision lay ahead of her.”

“What kind of decision?” Aang asked curiously.

“She had to decide between her attachment to her world and what she felt was right to do. We had some long discussions before she came to her decision.”

“And what did she decide?” Pathik looked at the young Avatar sternly.

“To do the right thing and let go.” Aang looked away, deep in thought.

***

Katara entered the throne room cheerfully. The newly arrived Kyoshi Warriors guarded the now-empty throne.

“Hi girls!” she greeted them cheerfully. “Once you are done with your shift, you should really go try that new teashop, “The Jasmine Dragon”. Suki, you must remember Zuko, he and his uncle are running it. Once the rest of the gang is back, maybe we could do a gathering there.” She looked around. “Where is the Earth King? We need to tell him that the orders for the invasion are ready.” The three girls stood up.

“Oh, don’t worry. I’ll be sure to let him know.” Katara’s eyes widened, recognizing the voice of the Fire Nation princess. Before she had a chance to react, Ty Lee jumped behind her and paralyzed her. Katara fell helpless to the ground. She could only hear in horror as Azula said:

“So, Zu Zu’s in the city too. I think it’s time for a family reunion.”

***

Aang looked up resolute.

“I’m sorry, but I can’t let go of Katara.” Guru Pathik shook his head.

“Aang, to master the Avatar State, you must open all the chakras. Surrender yourself.” The Avatar bit his lip, torn. Then he took a deep breath. He knew he had at least to try.

“Okay, I’ll try,” he said hesitantly.

 

A vision of a starry sky appeared in front of his eyes. The stars were moving around him at blurring speeds as the image of Katara appeared smiling and glided away. The stars stood on their position.

“Let the pure cosmic energy flow,” Pathik advised.

In front of Aang the Avatar Spirit appeared, along with trail of light connected him with his current incarnation. As Aang started walking towards him, his tattoos began to glow. He entered a sphere the Spirit created out of the spiritual energy surrounding them.

 

Suddenly another vision crossed his eyes. Katara was locked up in a small room, crying for help. Determined Aang leapt out of the sphere and ran to her. Thus he broke the connection and snapped rapidly out of his trance.

“Katara is in danger!” he cried, jumping to his feet. “I have to go.”

“No Aang!” Guru Pathik called alarmed. “By choosing attachment, you have locked the chakra!” Aang froze shocked. “If you leave now you won’t be able to go into the Avatar State at all!” Aang stood for a moment and then he ran to Appa, never once looking back. Pathik watched him go mournfully.

“You were right,” he whispered. “He wasn’t ready.”

“I wish I was able to be of more help,” a feminine voice said from his side. “I still haven’t repaid you for your guidance.” The old man turned to the Spirit.

“It was an honour to assist you,” he said humbly. “But why you came back here? It certainly wasn’t to warn me about the Avatar’s immaturity.” She shook her head.

“No,” she admitted. “The tranquillity of this place had always helped me to clear my thoughts. I learned lately some really interesting facts that seem to tie together in a rather unexpected way. Just by breathing the air here my thoughts now are clearer.”  She walked to end of the plateau. “But I need to return to Ba Sing Se too. I fear I’ve been gone for too long.” Guru Pathik shook his head in understanding.

“I hope I will see you again child.” She bowed in respect to the old man.

“I hope so too.” Then she disappeared.

***

Xin Fu was finding his patience unravelling rapidly. The brat’s whining had stopped, but it had given itself to a pounding that began and ended several times. Suddenly a loud clang was heard and the whole wagon shook. He stopped abruptly, waking his fellow traveller and they rushed to the back of the wagon.

“It’s another one of her tricks!” Master Yu said as they gaped to the empty cage.

“There’s a giant hole in the box. How’s that a trick?” Xin Fu retorted annoyed.

“It’s not!” Toph was heard behind them. “It’s the real deal!”

 

The two men turned to see the petite form of the earthbender standing a little away. With a few earthbending moves she threw them inside the cage, before bending it shut. Jumping on the roof of it she stomped her foot.

“I am the greatest earthbender in the world! Don’t you two dunderheads ever forget it!” Diving to the ground again she started running back to the direction of Ba Sing Se, the ground also moving to give her extra speed.

***

The teashop had closed for the day, so Zuko was surprised to hear feet approaching the front door as he cleaned up. A well-dressed man appeared and walked towards Iroh.

“A message from the royal palace.” He said respectfully. Worried Iroh scanned through the lines, paused and then read it again.

“I…I can’t believe it,” he managed to say.

“What is it uncle?” Zuko asked him worried too.

“Great news! We’ve been invited to serve tea to the Earth King!” he practically skipped back to the kitchen triumphantly. Zuko watched him go with a slight smile. He didn’t remember seeing his uncle so happy since the Siege of Ba Sing Se. It was definitely a wonderful turn of events they had come to this city.